Two decades after Nintendo pit Mario and Donkey Kong against each other over a toy feud, the duo is back and at it again. Nintendo gave the classic puzzle game a visual overhaul and touched up some of Mario Vs. Donkey Kong’s rougher points. While the first few worlds might seem a little too familiar to anyone who played the original, the strong foundation and excellent puzzle design still shine brightly 20 years later.
Donkey Kong: Shoplifter
Mario Vs. Donkey Kong starts off with a case study in the perils of creating needs through advertising. Donkey Kong watches a commercial for mini-Mario toy figures and, enamored by their charm and the belief that owning hundreds of them will improve his life, Donkey Kong sets out to make a purchase. He gets the proper Nintendo Amiibo experience and finds the store shelves empty when he gets there, though, so he decides to steal every toy from the factory, conveniently placed right next door.
Mario, who happens to be walking past, intervenes and chases Donkey Kong down to recover his stolen merchandise. The agile ape speeds through several themed worlds, dropping toys along the way for Mario to recover, assuming you can navigate spike traps, Piranha Plants, and tricky doors before time runs out.
It’s a cute, low-stakes setup that hearkens back to classic Donkey Kong in some of its boss stages and feels perfect to wind down with after a stressful day.
Each world has six stages, and each stage has at least two parts, both of which – in usual Mario fashion – are home to several collectible presents you can grab. Getting these takes more effort and clever planning, though while the time limits are a bit harsh, each stage is compact enough where you can (usually) figure out the best route to nab everything without feeling overwhelmed.
The basic idea is simple: Mario has to find a key and reach the door with it, and to up the tension a bit, the key can only exist apart from Mario for 12 seconds after he grabs it. That concept remains true through each level, but it’s hard to understate just how inventive each world is. World 1, the Mario Toy Company, plays with obstacles, multiple closed pathways, moving platforms, and puts these and other industrial-themed staples to good use. Donkey Kong’s Jungle is completely different, with more emphasis on verticality and using ropes to get around quickly – but not so quickly that you accidentally send Mario careening to his doom.
Sure, this kind of variation is what you’d expect from a good puzzle game, but it’s refreshing to see anyway, especially as it’s been almost 10 years since the last Mario Vs. Donkey Kong game released.
What's old is new
Most of these stages aren’t actually new, mind you. The puzzles in Mario Vs. Donkey Kong’s first four worlds will seem familiar to those who played the original Game Boy Advance game from 2004. Nintendo gave everything else a fresh update, though, from Mario’s voice lines, object sound effects, and the satisfying little noise that plays when you grab a collectible, to the soundtrack, which is exceptional.
The original Mario Vs. Donkey Kong’s soundtrack was understated, and at times, you could barely even hear it over the sound. In the Switch remake, it’s a jazzy, exuberant score that compliments the game’s general buoyant mood and, at times, even surpasses Super Mario Bros. Wonder’s score.
There’s still more to uncover in Mario Vs. Donkey Kong’s later worlds and extra features. If it’s anything like what I’ve seen so far, I can’t wait to dig into it.
This preview is based on a copy of Mario Vs. Donkey Kong that Nintendo provided. Mario Vs. Donkey Kong launches for Nintendo Switch on Feb. 16, 2024.
Josh Broadwell posted a new article, Mario Vs. Donkey Kong on Switch puts Mario in merchandise recovery
I totally forgot about this game. May have to pick it up
Glad to see shacknews got an advance copy—UNLIKE TOTK AMIRITE??